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Depression is a common mental health illness in the US and around the world. In fact, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention states that 1 in 10 adults in the US report experiencing depression. What is most troubling to me is that only about 51% of those people suffering from depression seek out treatment according to the National Institute of Mental Health. Depression may begin at any age and may be caused by any number of triggers such as bullying, parental or marital conflict, sense of isolation, loss, seasonal causes, etc.
As a result, I wanted to write a blog post specifically on depression, its treatment, and offer wellness tips to ward off depression. Please note that depression is one of several mood disorders and is different than bipolar, dysthymia, and other mood disorders. This blog post will focus on depression technically known as Major Depressive Disorder. I also want to make it very clear that depression is a treatable illness but, like many illnesses, it can require ongoing “maintenance.”
First let me review the symptoms of depression, followed by the treatment, and then offer some tips to ward off depression.
Symptoms of Depression: To meet criteria, five or more symptoms must be present for at least a 2 week period according to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. It is also very important to rule out physiological effects of a substance/drug, other psychiatric disorders such as bereavement, and medical conditions such as thyroid problems that may cause depressive symptoms.
- Sad or depressed mood most of the day, almost every day.
- Anhedonia, which is loss of interest in previously enjoyed activities.
- Sleep problems, usually hypersomnia but can also be insomnia.
- Weight gain or loss not due to diet or exercise.
- Low of energy or fatigue even with sufficient rest.
- Psychomotor agitation or retardation, which is usually moving or talking slower.
- Poor concentration or ability to think.
- Feeling of worthlessness or excessive guilt.
- Thoughts of death or suicide, which could be the most serious of all the symptoms and must be taken seriously even in children.
Here are some other symptoms to look for that are frequently present in depression:
- Thoughts of helplessness
- Thoughts of hopelessness
- Changes in appetite
- Decrease in sex drive
Treatment for Depression
Treatment for depression begins with an evaluation by a licensed mental health professional to determine severity of depression, to rule out other possible issues, and to refer for appropriate services. Treatment usually entails either counseling or psychotropic medication or a combo of both, depending on severity. Severe depression usually requires a psychiatric evaluation by a psychiatrist for psychotropic medication to help improve symptoms enough for counseling to be effective, while mild to moderate depression can usually be treated with counseling alone. It is important to know there are a countless approaches to counseling such as cognitive behavior, psychodynamic, humanistic, and many more. Many approaches explore the person’s feelings, thoughts, and behaviors. The trust developed between the client-therapist relationship is what many approaches have in common and what research has found to be an essential ingredient to effective treatment. That is why it is imperative that one choose a therapist that is a good fit.
In addition, there are other interventions or activities such as exercise and meditation that have been found to be effective treatment for mild to moderate depression. Family therapy can also be helpful at alleviating tensions at home that may be impacting one’s depression and hindering treatment progress.
Tips to Ward Off Depression
- Exercise Regularly as it has been found to be fantastic not only for managing stress and preventing physical problems but also at reducing depression and anxiety.
- Be Present is where people often report being happy while being in the future can create anxiety and being in the past can lead to feelings of regret, guilt, and depression. Focus on being more mindful about how you are feeling right now rather than how you felt weeks or years ago.
- Seek Support from licensed mental health professionals, friends, family and even animals, whom can be helpful. Surround yourself with people that are positive and validating.
- Know the Signs of depression so that you know when you or someone you in your life needs help.
- Know your Depression and be proactive. If you know that you happen to be extra susceptible to depression during the winter months, prepare for it by scheduling regular activities or seeking extra support during this time.
- Get Outside because sunlight can be helpful and so can nature. Experiencing the grandeur nature can help put one’s problems into perspective and when our problems seem small they don’t bother us as much.
- Find Meaning or a reason for living as it can be a powerful motivation to keep living. One’s meaning can be their partner, children, or even a cause.
- Sleep is vital to good health and mental functioning. Avoid sleep problems by having a regular bedtime even on weekends, keeping distractions from the bedroom (e.g., TV), and creating a bedtime that is conducive for relaxation.
- Visit Your Primary Care Doctor regularly to prevent, catch, or treat medical illnesses early that can create depressive symptoms.
- Eat Healthy meals to improve physical, mental, and emotional functioning. Eating unhealthy foods erodes your physical health, impairs cognitive functioning, and also impacts how you feel about yourself.
- Respect your Emotions rather than stuffing them. Bottling your feelings can be toxic to your body while expressing how you feel can be very relieving especially when your feelings are validated.
Author: Yoendry Torres, Psy.D., Clinical Psychologist